Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Art news

My dear friend Carmine is at the center of a storm that is sweeping through the art world. Her gutsy stance on deaccessioning has been the centerpiece of several recent stories in the NYT, including Sunday's Arts & Leisure piece.
In general, you can usually put me down in favor of bold decisions that shake up established norms at large bureaucracies and elite institutions. And the art museum world is the elite of the elite, and a power of example for what to do when the money runs out.

The Academy's decision raises a question that has not yet been dealt with in the media reporting on this issue. Is the integrity of a museum's mission better served during times of financial crisis by selling the art or by being rescued by a wealthy patron. At LA's MOCA, one of my fave museums, the city and trustees agreed on a secret deal with generous art patron Eli Broad, who is singlehandedly spearheading the financial rescue there. But at what cost to the future direction of the collection and programmatic mission of the museum?

The Medici complex that manifests when great and generous families (e.g., the Rockefellers at NY MOMA) take on the development or rescue of a museum is an example of exceptional civic virtue but full of risk for the independence of the curatorial mission.

That the national association of museum directors has taken on Carmine and the Academy in such an aggressive way suggests that this might be the opportune time for the conversation the museum world needs to have about funding, deployment of assets, and what can and cannot be sold or traded as museums face inevitable downturns and upturns in their financial conditions.

Three cheers for Carmine and the National Academy for getting this conversation moving again.

sent via Blackberry wireless PDA

1 comment:

  1. There was no 'secret' deal. All the terms of the $30 million dollar donation were laid out in detail at the press conference.

    $15 million is to be given as matching funds and $15 million is to be paid out without matching funds. $15 million goes to the endowment. $15 million goes towards exhibitions over the next five years. And the museum is to remain independent, live within its means and not sell any of its art.